top of page
  • Jennifer Jewell


Clare Foster and Sabina Rüber. Photo ©Eva Nemeth, all rights reserved.


To kick off this new year, Cultivating Place offers out the first in what will be an ongoing and intermittent series exploring Fresh Starts in our horticultural and gardening world.

Following up on last week’s show with Duron Chavis, in which we explored some of the obstacles, hobbles and even failures of imagination in the botanic garden world, this week we dive into a botanic garden endeavoring to imagine a fresh start to what they do, how they do it, and to whom it is of greatest service.

The Botanic Garden at Smith College, the original master plan for which was designed by the landscape architecture of Frederick Law Olmsted, opened its well-endowed collection in 1895 and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2020.

This week we’re are in conversation with Tim Johnson Director of the Garden going on 4 years now, and Jamila dePeiza-Kern, a student in her Junior year at Smith and involved with the garden since her earliest days on campus.

I spoke with Jamila and Tim a little earlier in the fall semester, both were working and studying remotely from their homes.

"There were a lot of schools that had botanic gardens and now don't, or they’ve downgraded them so much that they’re not really functional they’re just another accessory, some oddity on the campus. One of the things that I am really excited [here at Smith] about is the way that disciplines across-the-board not just biology are really finding that plants are relevant, that plants are of interest, and that plants are a solution"

- Tim Johnson, Director, The Botanic Garden At Smith College

"Smith's breathtaking and renowned botanic gardens and conservatory provide an extensive teaching collection of plant species from every corner of the world. The 127 acres of gardens and arboretum of the Smith College Botanical Garden combine the best of art and science. Botanical Garden collections and activities include not only plants but also books and other resource materials, an international seed exchange, research and conservation and many special events. Yet, above all, the living plant specimens are the heart of the Botanical Garden and the bridge to the rest of the botanical world, past, present, and future.

The Botanic Garden of Smith College fosters environmental and social justice through teaching and learning about plants, people, and place.


Curating plant collections that help us tell stories about plant and human diversity

Training students to be informed and impactful change agents

Preparing educators to develop effective, interdisciplinary, learner-centered experiences

Welcoming visitors to explore, learn, and contribute their knowledge

Cultivating spaces and landscapes that stimulate thought, foster well-being, and facilitate collaboration

The Botanic Garden of Smith College was founded over one hundred years ago, with the goal that the campus would function as a botanic garden and arboretum to be of scientific as well as aesthetic value. The landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, was enlisted to create that plan, and a new Landscape Master Plan was adopted in 1996."

You can take an online tour of the garden HERE; you can follow their work online at The Botanic Garden of Smith College and on Instagram @smithcollegebotanicgarden/

Join us next week when we continue our FRESH STARTS series with a conversation I enjoyed last summer with a long established friend in the gardening world, Doug Tallamy. His latest book "Nature’s Best Hope" envisions a fresh look and commitment to rethinking how much of suburban United States sees, uses, and cultivates their places. Listen in next week!





Happy new year gardeners, it was a long - really long - 2020 and it will not be a short 2021 by all forseeable measures. Especially after yesterday.

And that’s OK, we are Gardeners we can work with determination, patience, and faith - thinking and investing hyper locally, but keeping an eye on the global. What else is gardening after all?

I love the fact that this episode comes on the heels of our final episode in 2020 with Duron Chavis. He rightly recounted for us some of the failures of imagination in botanical gardens and in the garden world in general these last 150 to 400 years. This kind of hindsight is important for us to see, to say, to acknowledge to understand. It is only from there that we can move forward freely, fairly, and forcefully. Which is why I so love this episode, the a story of an old botanic garden in many ways based on a colonizing, acquisitive, and extractive mindset - but also on an educational mindset.

An educational mindset with a capacious enough perspective to understand that the exclusion of women from all of the academic botanical fields was not only ridiculous but a disservice to our world. As a starting point, this not even close to a solution for everything, but it’s an important access point.

It motivates me to hear Tim and Jamila talk about their work at this historic educational university based botanic garden and their hopes for its future. A future not understood by simply whether they will have the funds to continue, but a future based on their far reaching visions for how they serve the greater world in thriving. How do they adapt and evolve and respond to be of relevance and cultural integrity in this world moving forward?

These are the questions all of us should be asking, all of our gardens should be asking, and all of our cultural institutions should be asking. And if there are no substantive answers to these questions in these times from these gardens, gardeners, institutions, then maybe that’s an answer in itself – isn’t it? Their time is done.

And that’s a fresh start too – because Cultural Competency is prismatic – and while it definitely includes botany, horticulture, thoughtfully cultivating our places and mindful gardening – it does not include a narrow mind or imagination as to what is possible. Let's keep that thought front and center as we all choose what we welcome and what we invest in with our time, attention, amplification, and other resources.

As we Welcome January and welcome deep winter, we'd also like to welcome KWMR public radio in point Reyes Station California broadcasting cultivatingplace for another growing year. Welcome and thank you.

Listeners near and far - Do you have a public or community radio station in your area on which you would like to hear cultivating place?

If so send me an email I’d be happy to give you the language and tools you need to introduce your favorite podcast to your favorite station. Public and community radio stations across the country help connect households with their regions, they help support communities, economies, and cultures of care. Cultivatingplace is a fantastic addition to their programming line up and a great value at that.

We have great statistics, great graphics, and out of this world testimonials from you all and from other stations like KWMR to share. SO again – if you have a public or community radio station in your area on which you would like to hear Cultivating Place, send me an email and we will work together to introduce your favorite podcast to your favorite station.

#cultivatingplace is a #publicradioprogram and #podcast - a co-production of #NorthStatePublicRadio @nsprnews, where it airs every Thursday at 10 am and a Sunday at 9 am Pacific. The full sweep of the work is #LISTENERSUPPORTED through CP is created from a physical base on unceded, traditional lands of the Mechoopda Maidu Indian Tribe of the Chico Rancheria. #decolonizethegarden#decolonisethegarden


All photos used courtesy of the Botanic Garden at Smith College, Jamila dePeiza-Kern and Tim Johnson




SHARE the podcast with friends: If you enjoy these conversations about these things we love and which connect us, please share them forward with others. Thank you in advance!

RATE the podcast on iTunes: Or wherever you get your podcast feed: Please submit a ranking and a review of the program on Itunes! To do so follow this link: iTunes Review and Rate (once there, click View In Itunes and go to Ratings and Reviews)

DONATE: Cultivating Place is a co-production of North State Public Radio.

To make your listener contribution – please click the button below.

Thank you in advance for your help making these valuable conversations grow.

Or, make checks payable to:

JewellGarden with Cultivating Place in the memo line

and mail to: Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place

PO BX 37

Durham, CA 95938

All contributions go to the production of Cultivating Place and its educational outreach efforts and endeavors. Thank you for the value you find here and your support of it!


bottom of page